It's 2110, the Earth's glaciers have melted, and there's no climate fix in sight. As refugees stream inland from the inundated coasts, social structures and national economies are stressed to the point of fracture. Food production falters. Pandemics rage. Rising sea level and devastating superstorms have flooded much of Manhattan and wrecked its infrastructure. Its residents have mostly fled, but a few die-hards have bet their survival on the hope that digging in and staying local is a safer strategy.
As the weather worsens, can a damaged population of poor folk, artists, misfits, and loners work out their differences in time to create a sustainable long-term society? In a lawless city, where the well-armed rich have appropriated the high ground, can an ex-priest find a middle road between non-violence and all-out war? The lives of his downtown band of leftovers will depend on it.
Sheltering among them, a young girl named Glimmer struggles to regain a past lost to trauma. As her memory returns, she finds she must choose who and how to be, and who and what to believe in, even if it means giving up a love she has only recently found herself able to embrace.
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|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)|
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When the fog clears, even for a moment, it can really turn your head around. I'm talking brain fog here: suddenly it was like, hello, it's Glim, finally having a thought about something other than survival.
A brief thought, but a beginning. Here's how it went.
Heading out on my usual shift. Been soloing less than a week, foraging through the steamy, dark, flooded city. Hated it. Most of us did, 'cept the adrenaline freaks. Each time the job posts went up, I'd mention other tasks I'd score better at, but hey, we were the young and able-bodied, so night was our beat. Beefing only got you a stern reminder that picking kept the den clothed and fed.
"Oughta call it what it is," my buddy Rubio groused, scrubbing his black scrawl of hair like it was the culprit. "Call it trash collecting. Junk mongering. Scavenging."
"Not anymore." Like most newbies, I took den practice at face value: we went to bed with our bellies full. What else could matter? "Like, no evac's coming back for his stuff any time soon. Or ever."
Rubio could dismiss entire arguments with a twitch of one shoulder.
"C'mon, Rube. Maybe tonight you get lucky."
"Ran outa that a long time ago."
Every night was hard, but out on the walkway that night, getting up our nerve seemed harder than usual. The overcast hung so thick and low, even the heat had weight, like stew on a slow boil. The dark uptown skyline wore a moonglow of cloud along its peaks. The water below us, what we called the Lagoon, was opaque and still as glass. Slack water.
I scowled at the looming sky. "Smells like rain."
"A thousand toxins drifting from the sky . . ." he sang softly.
"Rain's cleaner now, with the factories mostly down."
"Good thing, since we're drinking it. When's high tide?"
"Do you ever check the tables?"
"Why? When I have you to tell me." Rubio slouched on the railing for a long cough, scrawny legs rattling in his boot cuffs. His lungs sounded full of liquid.
No use me trying to help. "Maybe you shouldn't . . ."
"I'm fine," he croaked.
The scarred-up dude with one arm was on front door watch. He brandished his torch like it was us he was guarding the den from. "Yo! Gitcher selfs upright! Git out there an' show sum pride! Doncha be scurryin' roun' lika buncha marks!"
Rubio roused, sharp as an angry bird, stoking a snarl I knew he'd regret. I nudged him quiet. The watch dude was old and half-cracked, but he was usually cool, so you had to wonder what'd got into him. Likely, weather on the way. I felt it, too, an itch I couldn't scratch, ever since my tumble in Abel's Wave. That night, I could barely sit still.
"Don't jump!" Plastic soles clomped on the boards behind us as Big Grace and Rivera pulled up laughing beside us at the rail.
"Might be for the best," Rubio muttered hoarsely.
Grace was tall as Rubio, muscular and often loud. When he called her the Amazon, she'd grin like it was a compliment, though he swore she didn't get the reference. I only did 'cause he'd told me.
Rivera, Grace's opposite, flared delicate nostrils at the heavy air. "A real shit night."
Grace elbowed in next to Rubio. "There's talk of another coup uptown."
This perked him up. "What sector?"
He frowned. "That's one of the stable co-ops."
"Only thing permanent is change." Grace's blond matched my own pale chop, but her long braid dropped out the back of her street cap like a tow rope. She and Rivera were rarely seen apart, spawning rumors they were an item. But Grace had a clear eye for the guys, so who knew? "The intel's not clear. Something going on."
"Just let it stay up there," murmured Rivera. "Where you all headed?"
Rubio coughed and spat, watched it drop into the water. "West Forties."
Gracie showed well-nourished teeth. "I got Broadway and 15th."
"Dog! So close!"
"And dry all the way."
"Mine's the lamest," I said. "West Teens."
"Why bother? Picked over long ago!" Rivera wound her dark braid up under her cap-out of grab range, like we were taught. She was careful-well, we all were, but Rivera always played it by the book.
I sighed. "They say new stuff's washing in since the last blow."
"Then let them go find it," Gracie snorted. "The river's as freaky as a cut snake over there. Never know where it'll be next."
I nodded, like snakes were my lot in life. Not all dens picked at night. A few didn't pick at all. But ours ran day and night, so there we were, four sorry pickers in dirt-colored street gear, staring down at the water's dark mirror as if waiting for a sign.
The watch dude rattled his torch again. Sparks flew past our noses.
Gracie hauled her boots up tight and shoved away from the rail. "Might as well."
Rubio nodded. "Might as."
We adjusted our headlamps, our pale third eyes. The walkways kept us dry till pavement showed at Third and 15th. From there, we went our separate ways.
By 2 a.m., I was nosing slowly along West 18th. My lamp was funky, not fully charged, so I was more than usually paranoid about flooded cellar holes or drowned subway stairs. Dropping into one of those could rouse the old nightmare of being sucked into an underwater vortex, and then . . . well, panic on the streets was never a good idea.
Still hard for me to be out there with confidence. First, step quiet, like my street coach called it. Ears and eyes sharp. And trust your nose. That night, I was keeping downwind of the recent collapse of a six-story on 17th. Maybe some good pick in the rubble-two families had been squatting there-but also toxics and dust. Bodies, too, from the stink of it, and I'm no fan of stealing from the dead. Plenty of pickers will, but no way I'm grabbing for anything a corpse still has a grip on.
Corner of 18th and Seventh, my ears turned me uptown. With the tide coming in, the black river lapped greedily along the avenues to the west, the debris mats shifting in the current, groaning like drowning souls. Rubio says if God had known what we'd do to his lovely planet, he'd have made us keep our gills, but who swims anymore? Even with the ocean washing in and out each day, a dip in its oily sludge could burn you raw. Night pickers learned to listen up and hear the water's messages.
And wear boots. We all had boots of some sort, though I still hadn't cadged a pair that really fit me.
I asked Rubio, "Hey, did all the size eights make it into people's luggage and off Island before the Wave?"
He rolled his eyes. "Which one?"
For once, I got a chuckle out of him, so I wasn't about to argue that Superstorm Abel had been the biggest and baddest. Rubio didn't see much cause for humor in this life, 'cept the darker sort. Or the sort where I was the butt, mocking my na•vetŽ and ignorance.
But he never said: doncha remember? Not once he got that everything before Abel's Wave was a blank for me-my name, my history, everything that tells you who you are. What I mean by brain fog. The den shrink called it 'dissociative fugue' and 'loss of access to autobiography.' In short, I was compensating. Plenty of memory-related trauma in the den: too little, too much, too vague, way too vivid. If you lived through Abel's Wave-or any Wave-you likely didn't want to remember. Just moving on took all your concentration.
As for the boots, good ones were something bright to hope for, every time I went out. Always a chance those my-size hip-waders would float right into my hands on the outgoing tide. But not that night. My pick sack hung limp at my back and the dark streets seemed scoured of anything worth taking.
But you can't just give up. Show up empty before the end of shift and you'll find yourself begging a friend for a meal chit. So I kept on. I was prodding my pry-bar into the trunk of a burnt-out taxi when I spotted a glow up ahead. That made me go still and quiet-and douse my headlamp. 'Cept for the collapsed squat, this was a famously deserted sector, and I'd bypassed the nearest known den back on 16th.
I recalled Grace's news about trouble uptown. Or . . . oh crap, if there was weather coming, it could be Storm Worshippers! The latest wacko sect, pledged to a hurricane goddess and reputedly into human sacrifice. Rubio scoffed at the rumors, and I'd yet to run into any, but out there alone, the prospect scared me silly.
But I was improving at panic control. I managed to keep my head. Like, Stormies meant bonfires. That cool, steady glow was no bonfire. And Stormies supposedly did this ferocious chanting you could hear blocks away.
I listened till my earlobes ached. Nothing.
Smart move was a quick retreat. But here's where things changed. First time in my short memory, I did not turn tail. Sure, my body coiled to run, but my brain held back. Like the tender inside-out skin I'd worn since the Wave had finally turned right-side-in. Like I'd grown a bit of shell. I felt . . . not whole, not strong, not even confident, but . . . ready to let curiosity lead me. You'll think, no big deal, but it was, because I moved toward the glow instead of away from it.
You didn't have to go uptown to know artificial light still reigned in the drier heights of the Island. Lots of solar and wind, biofuel generators, tidal turbines, even a few working power lines. But down here in the flooded Dark, anyone making power should be rationing it this time of night. If the light had been moving, like uptown joyriders out to crack some downtown heads, I'd have split for sure, but . . . if there was news to take home, it could be worth as much as a good night's picking.
Knowledge is power, Rubio was fond of saying, and I had so little of both. So I hauled my new nerve up around me and crept ahead, shadow to shadow, rubble pile to rubble pile.
Southwest corner of 23rd, a sturdy ten-story leaked bright stripes through third-floor storm shutters. A generator rumbled from a lower floor, the quiet, expensive kind. Out front, a single ancient streetlamp leaned over the broken sidewalk like a drunk, pulsing to the generator's rhythm. I stared at the barricaded glow from a doorway across the avenue. I'd been here on a training run hardly a month ago: the whole sector had been dark and desolate. Was this some new den, staking claim to a bit of neutral turf?
The dens kept their distance from each other, but basic cooperation was the norm. Word would get out if a new one started up, rich enough to run a nighttime generator, never mind power a personal streetlight. And den homes had a beehive hum to them, never mind sentries 24/7. Like, my sneak wasn't all that great yet. Any watch dude worth his sign would have spotted me long ago.
Which meant some other kind of newcomers, who could afford to live uptown but chose not to, for reasons of their own-like, stealthy ones. All those grills and grates and shutters would require some serious rebuild, and they'd sure been quiet about it. I prowled a bit more, but the place kept its secrets. Pretty slim, as news goes, but a thin mist was gathering. Rain would be next. I voted for home.
And then that girl showed up.
A soft patter coming around the corner of 23rd. I streak to the nearest door shadow, then lean my nose out for a peek.
It's a girl on tippy-toe, like a dancer late for an entrance, splashing through the shallows where the crossing dips and holds water. A girl. Alone. She's moving right along, but not like she's running from something.
She was my middling height, maybe a little older. Hair my color but straighter, and cut too short for her blunt jaw, like easy care meant more than looks. But her clothes said the opposite, pale and clean even in the steamy heat, uptown clean and uptown simple, floating around her in layers like bird feathers. She was as bright and shiny as the silver dollar my den boss kept tucked in his old leather vest. Could she have just left the lit-up building by some back door? That would explain her being this far downtown and still so clean. And wearing a plump backpack, right out in plain sight.
Really, what was she thinking?
I wrapped my oversized street tee around me and made like a statue in my dark doorway. If some silly uptowner wanted to get herself napped or worse, that was her biz and none of mine. She loped right by me. Could've reached out and grabbed her. Others would've, even in my den. Fair game, after all. But I'm a picker. Mugger is a different line of training.
Anyhow, it was like watching a piece of art fly by. She practically glowed.
I flattened into my recess, but not soon enough. Quick reflexes, for an uptowner . . . if that's really what she was. She slowed and glanced back, scanning the shadows, like she sensed more than saw me. But spill from the streetlamp must've put a shine on my eyeballs, and she focused right on me. Her eyes tensed with interest, and something else I couldn't read. I snarled and puffed myself up, to show I wouldn't come easy. But then, more splashing and thudding, and her gaze slid back uptown. Since she'd already tagged me, I eased out for a look and wished I hadn't.
Serious trouble pounding around the corner: two big thugs in slick, black body armor. Where'd they come from? Maybe it was their mystery building, and they'd seen her pass by? Didn't matter. I'd lingered too long.
The girl spiked a look at me and cocked an eyebrow. A question more than a plea, but like I said, I'm not a fighter. I shook my head, jerked a thumb for her to take a hike. She didn't look half played out. Probably hadn't planned on a random streetlamp picking her up like a damn searchlight, but she could lose them in a few blocks where it got dark again. Meanwhile, if she didn't move along, she'd bring the thugs down on me. I scouted my exit down a next-door alley, praying she wouldn't follow.